We talked recently around here about the mini-phenomenon of close analysis of pitching and swing mechanics online. One of the first and most popular purveyors of this stuff was Carlos Gomez, not the Minnesota Twins center fielder but a soft-tossing independent-league pitcher who posted on the Baseball Think Factory boards and wrote for the Hardball Times.
Gomez had been heavily influenced by the book "Moneyball" and was especially intrigued by the chapter about reliever Chad Bradford, who had succeeded doing what Gomez was trying to do: make it to the big leagues as a sidearmer. Gomez's handle left little doubt about his goals. He called himself ChadBradfordWannabe.
The San Juan, Puerto Rico, native's career fizzled out a couple of years ago, but this season he made it to the majors in another way, as a scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Gomez, 30, works out of Atlanta, where he moved in 2005 to work out with his cousin, Jeff Albert, proprietor of Swingtraining.com and now a hitting coach in the St. Louis Cardinals chain. He was still chasing the pitching dream then. He'd graduated from Purdue with a degree in industrial engineering and embarked on a career as an engineer, but had put that on hold to "give it one good go" under the eye of his cousin. It didn't work out.
After "about two months of frickin' nonstop e-mailing" last winter to big-league front offices, some of which knew him from his online work, Gomez landed the gig with the Diamondbacks. He watches major and minor league games and files reports on every player he sees. When I caught up with him -- which I hadn't been able to do in time for the earlier story -- he was driving from Atlanta to Fort Wayne, Ind., on his way to catch some Midwest League action.
The in-close mechanical analysis you were doing online, how much or how little of that is incorporated into what you're doing as a scout?
Well, I'm not going to hide the fact that I look at that stuff. I do. But the biggest eye-opener for me has been you can't get tied to what you like mechanically.
It does have something to do with my report. But man, there's many ways to skin a cat. What we do cannot get black and white with it. Hey, not every swing is pretty, not every arm action is pretty, but they work in different ways. Our job is to identify what will work.
It might be a brutal delivery that will work, it might be a brutal swing that will work because of other things that the guy does. Do I pay attention to it? Absolutely. Is it the end-all? No, it's not. That's the biggest thing for me so far.
When you were writing about pitching mechanics online, did you have an eye on someday turning that into a scouting gig or did that just kind of happen?
I did. I didn't hide the fact that my main goal was to get noticed by a major league team. My tag line at the Hardball Times was "I'm trying to get a job." Part of it was trying to shed the light on some of the mechanical jargon that you hear that people don't really explain. So I tried to be as simple as possible while still trying to talk the language of Major League Baseball.
I've always thought that was something fans kind of miss out on. Even knowledgeable fans and even people in the media. There's stuff that, if you could just go sit in the bullpen every night with a guy who's been in 1,000 games, he knows all kinds of things that you don't even know you don't know. Like what exactly a guy is thinking when he's on the mound. And it's hard to get it because it's two rare skills, asking someone who knows a lot about that stuff to be able to explain it clearly.
You actually hit on something. You're trying to get into the mind of the player, and I think you actually do need a little bit of prior experience to know kind of what the guy's going through. In a way, I say to some of the guys, I'm glad that I sucked, because it helps me understand. When a guy's really struggling? Well, I've tried that shit. That didn't do it.
When you first got the gig as a scout, how much of a learning curve was there? How much did you have to ramp up before the first day you sat in the seat with a radar gun?
Quite a bit. I'm a better scout now than I was a month ago, just from picking things up along the way. Dude, holding a stopwatch to me was foreign. And honestly I couldn't care less. To me it was like: slow, average or fast. Now we're asked to put a number on how fast the guy is, on the 20 to 80 [scouts rate players' various skills on a scale of 20 to 80, for reasons no one knows], and to put the time how fast the guy is to first base and how long does the guy take to deliver to home plate and all this other stuff.
And defense. Hell. You watch defense on TV, but I wasn't as concerned with that. So the learning curve for me was -- I don't want to sell myself short, but I still have a lot to learn. I feel like I'm in a good spot, but it was tough at first. The game was pretty fast. You're asked to evaluate so many players, so many aspects of the player, and you're so concentrated on that pitcher-batter matchup. You have to kind of expand and watch the whole field in a way I've never done before.
You were a big fan of "Moneyball," and that book was at the center of the supposed stats vs. scouts debate. I wonder if you have a position in that debate and if that's changed since you've become a scout.
Well, more than anything, you try to take all the information possible to shape your opinion of the player. Am I much, much, much, much more of a scout now than I am a sabermetric guy? Yeah, I am. Big time. It's huge. It's why we go watch the players.
Stats are nice, and I'm a huge stats geek. I look at the stats, and you expect to see some things, but sometimes what you see just doesn't match up to what the guy's doing out on the field. For the most part, I'll stick to my gut. Not for the most part. I will. If it's a big discord in what I saw vs. what he's done performance-wise, more than 99 percent of the time, I'll stick to what I saw. But yeah, you look at the stats.
You believe your lying eyes over the stats.
Yeah. I mean, yeah. You have to. Part of it too, for me, the reason I also look at stats, is that I don't have a history with a lot of these players. A lot of these guys, I'm seeing them live for the first time. I've watched them on TV. And some of the minor leaguers, I've never even heard of 'em.
So I get there and I'm like, OK, what is this guy? So you watch B.P. [batting practice] and you watch their pregame and you watch the game. And you think, "OK, what's this guy going to look like statistically?" If it matches up, you're on him. If it doesn't match up, then you're like, "Well, am I seeing what I really think I'm seeing?" There's a lot of self-doubt. Sometimes the things you read in some of the publications don't match up with what you see. "This guy has 80 raw power." No, he does not.
You talked about how you're glad you "sucked" because you have that experience when you're talking to a guy or watching a guy. Could knowing what you know now at 30, with your scouting experience, have made you at 23 a better pitcher?
Dude. [Laughs.] Part of it is the scouting part. A lot of it is scouting. Because now you kind of see what works. Hell, I think every guy who's played and then ends up scouting could look back and say, "Wow, if I knew that then." But I totally believe it.
The other thing is, I still am very in tune with the mechanics and all that stuff. I'm trying to wean myself out of it but I can't because it's in my blood apparently. But four months ago, I was routinely throwing 86 to 90. I've never been a guy who threw that hard. You just learn how to use your body more efficiently; you learn what works and what doesn't. I experimented so much. If I just knew to not frickin' tinker so much, and stick with one thing that works, and not try to be everything to everybody, oh my God, it would have been a different story, I think.
Do you kick yourself for not having learned that stuff earlier, like not figuring out to stop tinkering? Or have you made your peace with it?
[Laughs.] That's a great question. That is a phenomenal question. 'Cause I won't lie to you. There's a couple times I'm sitting in the stands and I'm like, "I throw harder than that guy. Why am I not out there?" But yeah, I've moved on. There's times where, you know, ah, I wonder what I would be able to do, even at age 30. But, dude, I've made my peace. But in a way you can't help but look back and be like, "Man, if I only knew then."
Everybody has those kinds of regrets about all kinds of things.
But I thought I would be a guy, when I finally decided to retire, I'm like, "No regrets. I did everything I possibly could." And at the time I did. But it wasn't good enough. And I know so much more than I did back then. If I could give that knowledge to that kid, it'd be a totally different story. I think. In my mind, anyway.
Have you followed the story of Brian Bannister? [A pitcher for the Kansas City Royals, Bannister has talked about how he tries to apply sabermetric principles as he pitches, which he says has helped him overcome relatively modest physical skills. He went 12-9 with a 3.87 ERA last year, his first full season in the majors. This year, he's 7-7 with a 4.88 ERA.]
What do you think of him?
Fascinating -- when he started talking about how he approaches it. I found a lot of me in it except he dug a little deeper. I was that guy. I was that guy in indie ball. I was that guy every time I played. You get to the park, you've never faced this lineup before. You start looking at the stat sheet. OK, who are the free swingers, who gets on base well? Everybody goes to batting average, I go to walks. Because I was wild, so OK, let me find out who I'm not going to be able to walk, as wild as I am.
But I found his research into it fascinating. I did my share of finding out what I could and couldn't do and what I needed to do to succeed. I just didn't apply it as well as he does.
Isn't it also that some of it is just physical. I mean, even a guy like Brian Bannister, about whom we say, "He has a marginal big-league arm" or that kind of thing. There's not many guys who have even a marginal big-league arm. A marginal big-league arm is still a fantastic arm.
I think something a lot of fans don't understand is just how great a baseball player a guy who makes it to Double-A is.
Dude, I'm glad you said that because there's been plenty of times I've written reports where I've said, "I really like this player -- but he's a Double-A player. He's a really, really, really good baseball player. He's just not a big leaguer. A lot of times you hear the fans say, "This guy sucks." Well, he doesn't really suck. There's so many guys that are just organizational players. Very good players. Just not good enough to be big leaguers.